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Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States

25 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2017  

Robert C. Lieberman

Johns Hopkins University

Suzanne Mettler

Cornell University

Thomas B. Pepinsky

Cornell University - Department of Government

Kenneth M. Roberts

Cornell University - Department of Government

Richard Valelly

Swarthmore College

Date Written: August 29, 2017

Abstract

In the eyes of many citizens, activists, pundits, and scholars, American democracy appears under threat. Concern about President Trump and the future of American politics may be found among both conservatives and progressives; among voters, activists, and elites; and among many scholars and analysts of American and comparative politics. What is the nature of the Trumpism as a political phenomenon? And how much confidence should we have at present in the capacity of American institutions to withstand this threat?

In this essay, we argue that answering these questions and understanding what is uniquely threatening to democracy at the present moment requires looking beyond the contemporary particulars of Donald Trump and his presidency. Instead, it demands a historical and comparative perspective on American politics. Drawing on a range of insights from the fields of comparative politics and American political development, we argue that President Trump’s election in 2016 represents the intersection of three streams in American politics: polarized two-party presidentialism; a polity fundamentally divided over membership and status in the political community, in ways structured by race and economic inequality; and the erosion of democratic norms at the elite and mass levels. The current political circumstance is an existential threat to American democratic order because of the interactive effects of institutions, identity, and norm-breaking in American politics.

Keywords: democracy, liberalism, authoritarianism, Donald Trump

Suggested Citation

Lieberman, Robert C. and Mettler, Suzanne and Pepinsky, Thomas B. and Roberts, Kenneth M. and Valelly, Richard, Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States (August 29, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3028990

Robert Lieberman

Johns Hopkins University ( email )

Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

Suzanne Mettler

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

Thomas Pepinsky (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Department of Government ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Kenneth Roberts

Cornell University - Department of Government ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Richard Valelly

Swarthmore College ( email )

500 College Ave
Swarthmore, PA 19081
United States

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